Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Oriole, Chicago

Oriole, Chicago, 5/10/2017 (17-Course, $190 excl. Taxes & Grat.), American Progressive, Michelin 2-Star

When I made the reservation, the receptionist alerted me the unusual appearance of the entrance, but I was still lost until a delivery men pointed out. The restaurant is located in premise which was probably a warehouse, its entrance doors are comprised of two pieces separated horizontally instead of the conventional way of separated vertically. When the door was being opened, upper piece would move upward and the lower piece would move downward. After the guest walk into the restaurant, the door would close. Inside the restaurant, it was decorated with many Japanese-Korean style white lamps. It can accommodate approximately 20 guests, with an open kitchen. The restaurant offers only one set of menu. Chef Noah Sandoval opened this restaurant only slightly more than a year ago in the interesting Fulton Street Market section of Chicago.

Bread and butter were served – seaweed bread, cream cheese with Myer lemon and peel, and ramp flower and ramp jells

1st Course – Golden Osetra Caviar, Coconut Dashi, Lychee and Sea Grape

At the very bottom, there was pickled apple with lychee sorbet on top of it. Then, a layer of shiso (belonging to mint family in red-leaved or green-leaved forms) and chive were topped with Osetra caviar, coconut-dashi gelate and sea grape (light green balls). Using sea grape and coconut dashi was the most interesting method of enhancing caviar’s taste and in the meantime to make it tasted sweeter.

2nd Course – Fraises Des Bois, Foie Gras Mousse, Pistachio and Ras El Hanout

Ras el Hanout is Arabic for “Head of the Shop” and implies the best of mixture of spices that the seller has to offer. There is not definitive composition of the spices that make up ras el hanout, usually includes cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and coriander, etc. At the very bottom, there was a piece of crisp made of flour and ras el hanout with a bit spicy taste. The crisp was topped with foie gras mousse and pistachio pesto, wild strawberry and anise hyssop. Anise hyssop has the smell and taste of anise, although it is a member of the mint family. Using wild strawberry and pistachio pesto greatly improve the overall balance of taste.

3rd Course – Scottish Langoustine, Spring Roll with Shio Kombu, Rhubarb and Mint

Scottish cold-water langoustine with shredded radish were wrapped in rice paper. On top of this roll, there were shredded shio kombu (seaweed) and mint. On the side, there were rhubarb cream with red powder made of Korean chili gochujgang pepper. My taste bud was very happy with the luscious and stimulating combination of ingredients.

4th Course – Kampachi, Nigiri with Yuzu Kosho, Rhubarb and Genmai

Raw Nigiri fish filet was coated in yuzu kosho (made of yuzu peel and pepper paste), then coated by nori powder. On top, there were some puffed Japanese brown rice(genmai.) This is a variation of Japanese sashimi. The kosho paste was truly wonderful and sophisticated, it gave you taste bud a little kick from the chili pepper and still let you taste the luscious taste of fish. This was my 2nd favorite course for the evening.

5th Course – Bone Broth, Vietnamese coriander, Cinnamon and lemongrass 

In the vegetable pot, there was beef bone broth with carrot, lemongrass, Vietnamese coriander. In addition, there was an empty bowl, at the bottom of bowl there was some red chili oil to be infused by the beef broth served at the table.

6th Course – Beef Tandon, Puffed with Wagyu Tartare and XO

Courses # 5 and # 6 were supposed to be eaten together. While you ate soup, you could also enjoy the classic A5 Wagyu beef tartare. A5, considered the best quality of Wagyu beef was prepared with chopped Vietnamese coriander and was place in the middle of a piece of puffy fried tendon in the same plate. The server also told me that I would be getting a course with A5 steak later. I was thrilled that I had another A5 two days ago in Grace and would be getting it again for the 2nd time in a week.

7th Course – Beausoleil, Mangolica Consomme, Finger Lime and Borage

I knew this course would be another wonder, mangolica to other breeds of pig is like A5 to other breeds of cattle. Beausoleil oysters are farmed in floating trays in Miramichi Bay, New Brunswick. Because of their carefully controlled, rocking, uncrowded environment, Beausoleil oysters are always perfect. It takes about 4 years to mature at 2 ½ inches. Oyster was served in mangolica’s broth and served with finger lime cells (seeds.) Finger lime had such a unique taste, it was an ideal accompany of shellfish.

8th Courses – Hamon Mangolica, Black Walnut, Egg Yolk and Quince

On the side, there was a thin almond crisp, with mangolica ham, egg drop, kumquart drop, blue cheese drop, and some dill sitting on top of the crisp.

9th Course – Iceland Steelhead Trout, Smoked Roe, Spring Onion and Fresh Herbs

Iceland trout’s flesh looks almost like Arctic char, in pale pink. It was served with Applewood smoked trout roe, and micro-greens with green goddess’ sauce (with varieties of herbs.) Trout skin was crispy and medium and tender in the center.

10th Course – Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Hudson Canyon Scallop, Dried Wild Blueberry and Oxalis

Both scallop and foie gras were from Hudson Valley, and seared. Scallop was crispy outside and very tender in the center. They were served with duck jus, candied onion, pickled mustard (small yellow balls), and oxalis which had acidic taste reminiscent of sorrel. Chef used oxalis instead of fruit to provide a balanced taste with foie gras.

11th Course – Sourdough, with Cultured Butter and Puffed Grains

A slice of toasted sourdough with cultured butter and puffed grains and chive to serve as a mild palette cleanser.

12th Course – Capellini, Italian Summer Truffle, Rye Berry and Yeast

Capellini, not too thin, not too thick, served with summer truffle. Chef Sandoval came to the table to shave truffle onto the plate. It was also served with parmigiano cheese, rye berry and yeast. I asked chef why yeast was used as an ingredient in this course, he said the slight sour taste of yeast provide a more overall balanced taste. It was delicious.

13th Course – Japanese A5 Wagyu, Charred Little Gem, Furikake and Sesame Loaf 

There are some grades for WAGYU beef, and A5 is the highest grade given only to the finest beef. It is famous for its smooth velvety texture, juicy flavor, delicate but rich taste. Its appearance looks marbling, tiny pieces of fat finely distributed. Marbling is never too rich, it almost melts in your mouth. The marbling is also the evidence that cattle have been specially raised in the vast lush wilderness using carefully selected feed (corn and rice straw), pure water and clean air.

Beef is classified into four categories, Japanese black cattle comprised the largest number of 4 breeds. Its deliciousness consists of the following factors: the taste and flavor that spread out in the mouth, and the smooth texture. The standards of grading beef consist of yield grade and quality grade. “A” of “A5” means the yield grade and “5” of “A5” means quality grade.

This melts in your mouth steak was served with charred little gem (1/2 baby lettuce), sprinkled with lemon juice and toasted sesame seeds. It was unconventional that chef used furikake to sprinkle on everything, except A5, in the plate. Traditionally, furikake is a dry Japanese seasoning meant to be sprinkled on top of cooked rice, vegetable and fish. It typically consists of dried and ground fish, sesame, chopped seaweeds, sugar, salt, shiso, and dried miso, etc. Chef used it for a dish of A5 wagyu, but did not sprinkle any furikake on top of A5 steak. Chef also made a rather unconventional inclusion, he used triple-grounded roasted onion instead of potato purée (it almost looked like potato purée in photo.) Just the sheer thought of succulent A5 could make my taste bud happy.

14th Course – Cucumber, Sorbet with Basil, Champagne and Tonka

I guess Tonka is a very popular and fashionable spice these days, many chefs at the restaurant that I visited recently used it.

Cucumber sorbet was served with champagne, basil and tonka bean for its nice aroma. 

15th Course – Croissant, Raclette and Rosemary Apple Butter

A flaky croissant was filled with soft raclette cheese and rosemary apple butter. Although I was overwhelmed with many dishes at Oriole, I dearly missed the truffle croissant at Acadia.

16th Course – Gianduja, Gelato with Mascarpone, Preserved Cherries and Sakura Tea

Pickled cherries were at the bottom, topped with mascarpone and fermented cherry gelato. Since cherry was not very sweet most of the time, chef used Giandujo which is a sweet chocolate spread containing about 30% of hazelnut to provide sweetness and decoration.

17th Course – Mignardises, Black Currant, Salted Caramel, and Fernet

A wooden tray filled with three items. These were the equivalent of lovely petit fours – ice cream sandwiA wooden tray filled with three items. These were the equivalent of lovely petit fours – ice cream sandwich with black currant, salted caramel chocolate and fernet (a bitter and aromatic sprit) and soda bon bon.

Oriole’s pastry chef delivered a goodie box to each customer upon departure. Inside the box, it was a rhubarb tart, the most delicious rhubarb desert that I have ever had during this week of fine dining in Chicago. Oriole has provided with impeccable services and extraordinary cuisine in terms of taste, flavoring and presentation beyond what I normally can expect from a Michelin 2-Star restaurant. Chef was very creative and made many dishes to perfection. It would be the 1st restaurant that I think of whenever I visit Chicago again.

Acadia, Chicago

Acadia, Chicago, 5/10/2017 (5-Course, $115 excl. Taxes & Grat.), American Progressive, Michelin 2-Star

Acadia is a Michelin 2-Star restaurant in the south loop of Chicago. Going thru the list in alphabetical order, it is the 1st Michelin 2-Star that I came across. Chef Ryan McCaskey focused mainly on American Progressive theme. The place is elegantly decorated, however, without open or see-thru kitchen.

I ordered a 5-course tasting menu. I started with Amuse Bouche.

1). Lobster Roll -  Fine quality lobster from Penobscot bay in Stonington, Maine, served with mayonnaise and chive sandwiched in a bite-size bread. The cold and clean water of Penobscot bay is the perfect environment for producing the sweetest lobster.

2). Fried Head Cheese – with aioli cream drop on top touched with a sprig of parsley leave.

3). Truffle Cookie -   this cookie dough also had Parmigiano cheese and thyme. It was served like a sandwich with truffle Bavarian cream in between. It was bite-size, but I would not mind to have a few more.

4). Beef Heart – Beef heart was slightly seared and grilled to get the flavor. It was almost raw, served with ponzu sauce, hoi-shin sauce, chopped peanuts, white onion; adorned with Thai basil, mint and broccoli leave. 

1st Course – Truffle Croissant

I noticed the croissant had 2 different colors on the skin, it was made with 2 types of dough and twirled together at the final stage before baking, the darker color dough was the one with chopped truffle and the lighter color was the one plain. It was accompanied by egg custard foam (lighter than egg custard) made of whole egg, vanilla and truffle. I dipped croissant into the custard foam and could not quite find any better terms to describe the taste and flavor besides “It was like in heaven”.

2nd Course – Columbia River Salmon, Fava Bean

Salmon, from Columbia river, was poached to perfection, tender and medium in the center. To complement the flavor, the dish also included fresh radish, toasted granola, tangerine leaves, fresh dill, pickled orange peel, cute pansy flower and lemon yogurt cream.

3rd Course – White Asparagus, Iberico Ham, Farm Egg

I was happy that white asparagus was on the menu again. White asparagus, from Holland considered the best quality, was served with Iberico Serrano ham from Spain. Egg from Slaga farm south of Chicago was low-heat poached en sous-vide to a condition that the egg was barely settled, but not soupy, with a very pleasant rich taste. In addition, there was Fontina cheese fondue, ham crumbles, arugula, water crest, red bean sorrel served with truffle vinaigrette. I loved the taste of this semi-cooked egg yolk, the edge and the center part were with the same softness and smoothness. Most of the sunny side-up eggs was a bit harder on the edge than the center.

4th Course – Stonington Lobster, Ramp Gnochi, Green Goddess

Lobster was from the same source, Stonington, Maine, as what served in the amuse bouche. Lobster was poached in butter to keep its flesh tender and juicy. On the side, there were green gnocchi made of ramp, green asparagus, chervil, thyme, cream and sour cream, lemon and sorrel interspersed with a few cute flowers. The quality of lobster was without of doubt, Chef’s cooking technique also had a lot to do with the luscious taste of this dish.

Red Fife Biscuit, Pretzel Roll – served with 3 flavors of butter, yogurt, mushroom and mixed herbs.

Pea Ice Cream, Japanese Cheesecake, Meringue

For transition to meat dish. Gently flavored pea ice cream was served with whipped light cream and pea leaves/ vine tips.

5th Course – Anderson Farm Lamb, Olive, Peas

Lamb supplied by Anderson Farm was roasted to medium-rare and served with charred onion, diced and sautéed potato, peas and strawberries. The inclusion of olive tapenade made this dish from a good one to an excellent one.

Bloody Mary – with strawberry sorbet, spiced tomato sauce, celery foam, tomato balls and parmigiano sable. It was a palette cleanser proceeding the desert. It balanced among many different flavors and produced a sophisticated taste. 

6th Course – Rhubarb Strudel, Nasturtium

At the bottom, there was a thin crisp with cashew cake, rhubarb compote and ice cream place on the crisp. This 2nd layer was then covered by another layer of crisp which was topped with poached rhubarb pieces, ricotta cheese cream and nasturtium leaves. Rhubarb was prepared properly without the tarry taste. It was a good treat for the seasonal desert.

Petit Four – Raspberry White Chocolate Bon-Bon, Rosemary Olive Cookie, Multi-Milk & Coffee Cream Macaroon. They were all yummy and cute, complementing with each’s distinctive taste and flavor.

After getting off the train at Chinatown station, it took about 10 minutes of walking to get to Acadia. Nevertheless, the mouthwatering experience of truffle croissant made the journey worthwhile.

Boka, Chicago

Boka, Chicago, 5/8/2017 (8-Course, $120 excl. Taxes & Grat.), American Progressive, Michelin 1-Star 

I stayed in Chicago for a week to enjoy its fine dining and fine arts. I arrived on a Monday with very limited opportunities for fine dining choices. For some strange reasons, most of the Michelin 3-Star and 2-Star restaurants are off on Sundays and Mondays or Mondays and Tuesday. I chose Boka because of its vicinity to the hotel.

Boka offered an eight-course tasting menu. I started with Amuse Bouche.

1). Kumamoto Oyster, Togarashi, Celery 

Kumamoto oysters are native to the southern islands of Japan. Kumamoto oysters grow very slowly and have a rich taste that feels like eating real butter for the 1st time in your mouth. In addition, the meat filled the shell pretty full. These days, they are mainly produced in Puget Sound and Willapa Bay in the northwestern part of US. The size was not large, but the meat was rich, smooth and fresh. Served with Japanese chili oil, and finely diced celery, it was ideal for opening your palette.

2). Pumpernickle Pain Perdu, Horseradish

 Maple syrup marinated trout roe sat on top of pumpernickel bread to balance the salty taste of fish roe. Then, fresh grated horseradish and chive were placed on top of trout roe to provide the whole item with a more sophisticated taste.

3). Crispy Cod Skin, Smoked Eel, Black Garlic

There was creamy black garlic ayoli at the very bottom, topped with finely grounded crispy cod skin. House made smoked eel was placed on top of cod skin which is then covered by a thin layer of daikon and a micro green for decoration. 

The three items of amuse bouche were awesome. I love good amuse bouche which usually indicated the chef’s style and to be finalized product in progress.

Breads were served, including freshly baked pretzel bread with caraway seeds and salt, and whole wheat bread. Butter was served with lemon zest. Both bread and lemon zest made pleasant appetizing aroma.

1st Course – Scallop Crudo, Almond Milk, Horseradish

This was a quasi-sashimi style scallop. However, the flavoring was different. This dish was served with almond milk, nori oil (soaking nori in oil for a long time to extract nori flavor). My favorite ingredient was the tiny pale pinky balls squeezed out of finger lime. These tiny balls had such a pungent flavor of citrus, pepper, and a bit of wasabi-like flavor, really hit the spot. It was an excellently well-balanced and pleasantly presented dish.

2nd Course – White Asparagus, Sorrel, Potato, Dried Scallop

Mid-May is the season for white asparagus, my favorite vegetable. This dish is roasted white asparagus with potato (in round shape) in sorrel sauce with sorrel cover. Up to this moment, this could be a very tasty dish already. But, the chef delivered more inspiration, chef made powdered fried potato and powdered smoked dried scallop. These dried powders were dusted on top of asparagus and then decorated with celery leaves. Asian people like to use dried shrimp or dried scallop to enhance the taste of vegetable or rice. I love this chef’s creativity of using dried scallop to bring out a different perspective of taste.

3rd Course – Shaved Foie Gras, Cashews, rhubarb, Celery Root

I saw a lot of shaved light brown flakes when this dish was served. It was shaved foir gras, foie gras was frozen and shaved in a special machine. Shaved foie gras was sprinkled with cinnamon powder and covering rhubarb, cashews bit and celery roots underneath. Since foie gras was shaved into thin flakes, the temperature was low otherwise flakes would be softened. Therefore, to enjoy the full flavor, you should let it stay in your mouth for a few seconds until flavors from all the ingredients were fully integrated at above freeze point temperature. This was the 1st time that I taste frozen shaved foie gras and I was satisfied with the taste.

4th Course – Roasted Octopus, Kumquart, Fennel

1st job was to prepare nori-flavored butter by soaking nori in butter. Then, brushed nori-flavored butter on octopus before roasting octopus. This dish was served with fennel in 3 flavors – roasted fennel, fresh fennel, and fennel purée. It also served dill and kumquart on the side to complement octopus’ enhanced seafood flavor.

5th Course – Olive Oil Poached Cod, Maitake, Peas

Cod filet was prepared en sous vide, therefore, tender and medium in the center. Cod was served with crispy shallot, shallot, sorrel and sorrel fumé (less airy than foam). In addition, there were fresh baby peas, maitake mushroom and mushroom jam (sautéed and glazed with a bit sugary appearance) which did the wonderful job of complementing the fish and bring out a sophiscated overall taste.

6th Course – Roasted Lamb Loin, Beets, Gem Lettuce, Yogurt

Lamb was supplied by Colorado Farm. The dish had various parts of a lamb – loin, neck and tongue. On the side, there were gem lettuce, beet, cooked lamb juice and lamb yogurt (white round shape) which tasted milder than goat cheese.

7th Course – Black Sesame, Strawberry, Puffed Grains, Tonka

This is a course considered a palette cleanser. It included black sesame ice cream, strawberry compote, crumbles (in light brown color) and tonka beans.  

Tonka beans look like an elongated raisin or a hard, skinny date. The taste of Tonka Bean is linked strongly with its scents like vanilla, almond, cherry and cinnamon. Chefs are craving for its spicy and fruity aroma which can be used in both savory and sweet applications. Tonka beans are usually shaved, a preparation to release its pungent aroma and subtle flavor. Unfortunately, all foods that contain the chemical compound coumarin are considered by the FDA to be "adulterated" and have technically been illegal since 1954. Tonka beans are a major source of coumarin, therefore, not available in US in the past. This year, tonka beans seem to be in fashion. Internet has changed the accessibility and availability of many things in the world. Because of its taboo status in the past, creative chefs are eager to play with it.

8th Course – Dark Milk Chocolate, Earl Grey, Sudachi, Black Lime

It included Earl Grey ice cream, dark chocolate ice cream, sudachi jam and some mint leaves on the side. Sudachi is a sour Japanese citrus, not eaten as fruit but used as a food flavoring in place of lemon or lime. It has a zestier flavor and aroma than lemon or lime. I have always liked its taste. The desert would have been more complete if a piece of cake or pastry had been included. However, the inclusion of Sudachi did make the taste and flavoring more interesting.

Petit Four – It had five items. They were all cute and delightfully luscious.

Passion fruit tea cake – bite-size yellow cake with passion-fruit flavor
Chocolate and chia truffle – taste less rich than ordinary truffle
Chocolate and almond dacquoise – with a bit of almond-flavored liquor taste
Chocolate with pistachio and dry fruits – pineapple, raspberry and apricot
Mango jelly candy – very refreshing, I would love to have a few more pieces

Boka’s savory dishes were extraordinarily above average of the Michelin 1-Star restaurants’ quality. I really enjoyed my 1st fine dining in Chicago.